Leadership has a great deal of application to this wicked problem project, but that does not signify any level of ease or simplicity with which to apply its concepts. The first roadblock of this project is my geographical distance from Cameroon. I will need to inspire a network of participants to carry out the overall vision through a carefully and effectively planned strategy and networking. This also makes having face-to-face interactions difficult, thereby limiting my active listening skills and increasing chances for misunderstandings. Lastly, diversity training is exacerbated by the distance and active listening issues, requiring greater cross-cultural sensitivity. Moving to Cameroon would alleviate only a portion of these challenges, so I have planned certain steps to address them.
For leadership, just as it is for numerous other facets, distance will create challenges. A necessary leadership skill is networking and being 7,000 miles away will make it difficult to meet new people. I have to branch outside of my professional domains in order to gain perspective (Ibarra & Hunter, 2007), and with the domain of education in a developing country, I am limited in my exposure opportunities.
Engaging in shared activities is also restricted to a limited scope for any time I don’t spend in the country, but would be extremely helpful for learning about the character of individual Cameroonians (Uzzi & Dunlap, 2005). The people I want to network with have their own unique background and knowledge of the education problems and opportunities in their country. Living in the country for an extended period of time would be extremely helpful for producing innovative solutions (Cross & Thomas, 2008), but I am not currently in a position to move there.
Similar to the networking problem, active listening is less effective with the distance. More specifically, face-to-face conversations are more difficult to have with individuals who may lose their internet for extended periods of time (Fandio, Tchaya, & Landais, 2017). Many of the conversations I have had with Cameroon-natives have been in messaging programs such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype. This type of communication makes it difficult to discern emotional cues that make up the intensity of thoughts and experience that the speaker is trying to convey (Clawson, 1991).
Without competently understanding others’ emotions, it is also difficult to have empathy (Goleman, 2004). I need to empathize with the people I’m working with in Cameroon to recognize and acknowledge their feelings. It’s also essential to cross-cultural sensitivity, which is critical to this wicked problem considering I aim to only effect change in different countries with various races and distinct economies.
The cross-cultural issues of active listening are part of a diversity issue I will face. Knowing what is unique about Cameroon as a nation, as well as its regions, is challenging since I do not live there or have much experience with their people or culture. There will be different opinions on how their education system should be improved, including those that want to keep it as it is. Making culturally insensitive comments, especially as a white man from a developed country (Cole, 2012), can derail this entire project.
Sub-Saharan African leaders want to develop teams and individuals where Americans invest more in efficiency and action (“Leadership Across Cultures”, 2015). Bringing team members on board here in the U.S. as well as in Cameroon would require diversity training to understand and appreciate each other. As outsiders, U.S. team members will often need to cater themselves to the preferences of Cameroonians because we are effecting change in their home that they and their ancestors will be using and living with, if the project is successful.
Addressing the Challenges
Recruit a Team
Having recruited one Cameroon-native to assist me in this project, my abilities have improved and widened. To expand on this effect, I will form a team in Cameroon and in the United States to strategically network across both countries. Strategically networking allows me to invest in and manage certain relationships (Goleman, 2004) that potentially reach an exponentially greater number of people. I will reach out to my current networks to invite interested parties to be a part of this project.
A team will also provide perspective and help build self-awareness through shared experiences (Groysberg & Connolly, 2013), both of which can lead to insights about Cameroon’s education or innovations that would propel this project’s goals forward. These perspectives will additionally help me strategically network by analyzing the politics (Ibarra & Hunter, 2007) that so heavily plague Cameroon because of its natural resources (Carmody, 2016). A more educated economy of workers is likely to upset numerous countries’ current standings, not to mention the Cameroon government officials who profit from these relationships (Kindzeka, 2016). I will recruit team members who are specifically networked into government relations and can assist in this capacity.
I have previously reached out and begun a friendship with a Cameroon-native, working with him to learn more about the country. Fostering such a relationship has helped break past the challenges I have with active listening because I have developed a keener sense of his emotional cues (Clawson, 1991). With this feedback, I will seek out similar relationships with a select group of people, growing interpersonal relationships with people who would be more inclined to campaign for this project in my absence.
By focusing my active listening on fewer, more meaningful relationships, I can capitalize on those people’s ability to use active listening in person. Simultaneously, deeper relationships based on mutual understanding will relieve some of the challenges of networking and diversity training. With these contacts, I will request help in reaching new contacts, such as the government liaisons discussed above. I will also inquire into their personal experiences with education and what I can personally do to be culturally sensitive with this project’s goals.
Learning About the Culture
Critical to understanding the culture, I need to absorb as much information about Cameroon’s culture as possible. Through networking and building deeper relationships, I will learn a lot, but I will need to truly understand the history, people, and government from multiple sides. I will read current news stories about Cameroon, education-related or otherwise, as well as books on the culture and people. Additionally, I will take courses in international policy for a more global view and courses in African ethnography for a more specific view; specific to this last action step, I have begun looking into programs at Stanford, Harvard, and Vanderbilt that cover international education policy.
Carmody, P. (2016). The new scramble for Africa. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. (2007). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), 40-47.
Uzzi, B., & Dunlap, S. (2005). How to build your network. Harvard Business Review, 83(12), 53-60.
Cross, R., & Thomas, R. (2008). “How top talent uses networks and where rising stars get trapped” Organizational Dynamics Vol. 37, No. 2, pp 165
Clawson, J.G. (1991). Active listening. Darden Business Publishing.
Goleman, D. (2004). What Makes a Leader?. Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 82-91.
Leadership across cultures. (2015). Harvard Business Review, 93(5), 30-31.
Groysberg, B., & Connolly, K. (2013). Great leaders who make the mix work. Harvard Business Review, 91(9), 68-76.
Cole, T. (2012, March 21). The White-Savior Industrial Complex. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/
Kindzeka, M. E. (2016, May 17). Corruption probe nabs 14 more Cameroon officials. Retrieved October 02, 2016, from http://www.voanews.com/a/cameroon-corruption-probe-arrests/3332488.html
Fandio, P., Tchaya, Z., & Landais, E. (2017, February 22). #BringBackOurInternet: English-speaking Cameroon hit by digital blackout. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from http://www.france24.com/en/20170222-focus-cameroon-anglophone-english-speaking-bring-back-internet-digital-blackout